Esports team Gen.G has announced a new partnership with the University of Pennsylvania to create the Digital Penn Relays – an online competition launched in response to the track & field event’s cancellation this month.
Amateur athletes, school alums, and fans of the 125-year-old event will create avatars to compete against each other on customized Minecraft courses developed in partnership with Super League Gaming.
The one-day broadcast will stream on The Penn Relays’ Twitch channel on April 24. Toyota and The U.S. Marine Corps are the presenting sponsors of the inaugural event.
While Gen.G is perhaps best known for its competitive teams in games like League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, this latest initiative with UPenn is a part of the organization’s overall casual gaming strategy.
“Being an esports company, we’ve found that esports is a deep space, not just for competitive gaming, but for casual gaming,” Jordan Sherman, head of revenue operations at Gen.G, said. “We see this as a long-term play hopefully where gaming will be a part of the Penn Relays for a long time.”
The virtual Minecraft stadium created for the Digital Penn Relays will mirror Franklin Field – where The Penn Relays are held each year, according to the company.
Part of that casual gaming strategy is helping universities connect with new generations of gamers. Gen.G additionally viewed the cancellation of events such as March Madness and The Penn Relays due to the coronavirus as an opportunity to bring online remote play to fans.
The esports company will wrap up a five-day NBA 2K tournament launched in partnership with the University of Kentucky on April 14.
“I think colleges are starting to realize that people are interested in gaming no matter what their background is, which has been interesting for us because universities have realized they have to offer some sort of gaming activation or opportunity for students,” Sherman said.
Gen.G’s esports teams have won seven championships across titles such as League of Legends and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on the competitive gaming scene. It also launched the NBA 2K League’s first international franchise in Shanghai.
Yet the company does not expect much crossover between its college business and fandom for its esports teams – at least not initially.
“This is a unique part of our business,” Sherman said. “We see competitive gaming taking off, but we also believe in communal casual gaming. These types of partnerships are viewed as potential franchises that we can build with schools where we help them get into a new space.”